Purpose: This study aims to systematically explore the impact of physical exercise as supportive therapy for head and neck cancer. Methods: A systematic search on PubMed/MEDLINE, Cochrane, and SPORTDiscus was conducted. Randomized controlled trials exploring the effects of a physical exercise intervention in comparison with usual care on outcomes in patients with head and neck cancer were selected. The RoB 2 tool was used to determine the study quality. The extracted data are reported as qualitative synthesis. Results: Among the 527 records examined, nine studies were included. No trials investigating exercise as prehabilitation were found, whereas eight studies involving 452 patients with head and neck cancer were conducted during anticancer treatment. Most trials did not report improvements in body mass index or body composition, while 2/4 and 3/5 investigations found a significant increase in muscle strength and cardiorespiratory fitness, respectively. Regarding the patients' reported outcomes, 4 out of 7 studies observed enhancements in some domains of quality of life, and two trials out of 3 detected an amelioration in fatigue following the exercise intervention. Analyzing the exercise programs, it seems that combining aerobic and resistance training could be more beneficial compared to a single type of full-body exercise in counteracting physical decline and controlling symptoms in the anticancer therapy phase. One trial has investigated the effect of resistance exercise on patients who had terminated the anticancer treatments, reporting significant improvements in lean mass, muscle strength, and quality of life. Conclusion: Exercise may be a promising approach in patients with head and neck cancer. Future studies are needed to consolidate these results.
Avancini, Alice;Borsati, Anita;Belluomini, Lorenzo;Nocini, Riccardo;Insolda, Jessica;Sposito, Marco;Schena, Federico;Milella, Michele;Pilotto, Sara
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